The Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol – Founded in 1920 By Simeon B. Chapin


Water Safety Patrol Boat #1, known as the “Flagship of the Fleet”

Today we have a great story from fellow Woody Boater “Capt Slats” (Sean Slattery) regarding the amazing Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol which still uses a purpose built wooden patrol boat built by Bill Budych in 1966 – simply known as “Boat #1”. – Texx

Texx – A while back I wrote you talking about doing a story on Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol’s wooden boat that is still used in our fleet. After the season started, I’ve been busy to say the least. See attached a YouTube video to add to this story to provide a little bit more about the Water Safety Patrol, this promotional video one of our crew members (who is now working for Charlize Theron) made last August – it’s titled “The Water Safety Patrol – A film by Drew Shenfield”. Its a nice little video to give a little more media and story about what we do.

Where to begin…. well the Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol was founded in 1920 by Simeon B. Chapin. He, along with other lake residents, saw a need for an organization that promoted lake safety. In the beginning, there were just posters outlining safe swimming practices. Drownings were all too common occurrence. To curb this, the first Patrollers were swim instructors.

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Staff photo from mid 90’s.

The first Patrol boat came along a few years later in 1927 we think. The Patrol’s three main disciplines are Education, Assistance, and Rescue. Between our swimming lesson program and our Wisconsin DNR sanctioned boating safety classes, our instructors teach over 1,000 students each and every summer. Another branch is the lifeguarding service. We provide lifeguarding services to 14 beaches and associations around the lake.

Our last branch is the Boat Patrol. It provides assistance to hundreds of boaters annually from the mundane battery jumps and ropes on the prop to sinking boats and boats on the rocks along with assisting people with medical emergencies. All three facets work together to promote safety on Wisconsin’s busiest lake in conjunction with the Geneva Lake Law Enforcement Agency (Police Boat) and the area Rescue Squads (Villages of Fontana, Williams Bay, Town of Linn, and the City of Lake Geneva).

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Photo of Water Safety Patrol Boat #1 outside our original headquarters on the Riviera docks. It wasn’t much bigger than a closet, but was our home for 81 years.

Enough with the history, lets get down to Boat #1. Boat #1 has been in the fleet since 1966. She was built by local boat builder Bill Budych at a cost of $10,000.00. Bill was a cabinet maker who learned how to build boats when he started working at Gage Marine. Bill learned the art of boatbuilding while there at Gage when Gage was producing the original Gage-Hackers. As some of you may recall, the Gage-Hackers were the last boat to be designed by the famed architect John Hacker. Some of the letters of correspondence between John Hacker and then owner and operator of Gage Marine, Russ Gage, are displayed prominently in Gage Marine’s new restaurant aptly called Pier 290.

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When Bill was building Boat #1, it was decided to model it after the boat it was replacing. Bill was assisted in building the boat by local jack of all boat trades Dude Assman (I know what a name!) Bill rented shop space from Dude. When building the boat, they took the old one and placed it right outside the work shop so they could pattern the boat identically. Bill once told me, “If I ever got stumped, I’d walk outside and take a look and the answer to my question was right there. Best cheat sheet I ever had.”

We don’t know what the original #1 was. Our best guess is that it was a Hacker. In the construction process, they decided to go green so to speak and re-used all of the existing hardware. Everything from the steering wheel, navigation lights, props, rudders, engines, gauges, prop shafts, you name it they re-used.

In later years some Patrollers who returned to the lake and served on the older boat, swear that it was the same boat. The main difference is in the building of the boat. To meet the pounding and rough water demands that the boat would face, the boat was beefed up. Her hull is a double hull each layer is 3/4 inch mahogany. Her ribs are closer than most other boats, providing a strong durable backbone for the workhorse that she is.

Since the Water Safety Patrol is a not for profit organization, we rely heavily on donations in order to accomplish our mission of keeping the lake safe. Most of our boats are named after the donor or donors who were generous enough to make a contribution (some of them are even Woody Boaters).

All of the boats, that is except for Boat #1. She was named for Operations Director Dick Scherff who served in that position for 22 years. In August of 1979, Dick Scherff died behind the wheel of Boat #1 while responding to a rescue call on the north shore of the lake. It was shortly after that when the boat was named in his honor. Dick was a longtime member of the Williams Bay community serving as coach and teacher at the high school.


Boat #1 responding to an unfortunate accident.

When people talk (or in some cases drool) over the great boats of Geneva Lake, they undoubtedly mention the “Helen-A”, “Maggie B”, “El Do VIII”, “Gypsy”, “Effie”, “Shotgun Willie”, “Wooden it Be Nice”, “Ezco Pazzo”, “Vigor”, “Joanna K”, “Nokomis”, the list goes on and on. But often times I hear people skip over Boat #1. Maybe she doesn’t have an exotic varnish job like some of these other boats. She’s forever in blue jeans with her blue top and white sides. Maybe she’s got a little more wear than those who are treated like grandma’s pearls.

Try as we might, she does get a nick here and there every once in a while. Show me another boat, let alone a woody, that has towed boats such as the “Hathor”, “Matriark”, and “Sea Lark” and I’ll show you a tug boat. At 47 years old, she’s 26 feet of twin engine heaven. She’s as valuable to the fleet today as she was back in 1966. It is a privilege and an honor for those of us who get to work on her keeping the lake safe for all to enjoy.

Hoping each and every Woody Boater (and even the plastic ones too) have a safe and happy summer.

Sean Slattery
Assistant Director
Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol

Thanks Sean for sharing your story with us here on Woody Boater today and for all you do to keep the waters of Geneva Lake safe for everyone. Sean is also a regular viewer here at Woody Boater, we know him as “Capt Slats.”

Below is a spec sheet on the legendary Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol Boat #1 from their great website, which is where we also found some of the photos for today’s story. Below, you can also see the great promotional video titled “The Water Safety Patrol – A film by Drew Shenfield.” – Texx


Boat #1 Spec Sheet

Make/Model: Custom
Year: 1965
Length: 26 feet
Beam: 8 ft.
Material: Wood
Approximate Weight: 6170 lbs.
Engines: Twin 454 C.I.D. Mercruiser inboards
Top Speed: 64 mph

6 replies
  1. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    That’s a great service. I bet their presence has a significant positive impact on boating or swim related accidents versus other lakes with no service.

  2. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Btw, bet that’s an interesting story on the boat up in the weeds. Looks like a woody based on the open engine hatches but with an aluminum skin?

  3. Alex
    Alex says:

    My boat, The Majestic, was bought off Lake Geneva from
    Roger O’Neill. At the time, the boat was called Bootlegger. Roger informed me at the time of purchase that Bootlegger was originally called “Water Safety Patrol #2,” and he provided me with a photo of the boat when it was serving in that capacity. The boat — a Chris-Craft, 1948 25′ Sportsman — did not have the center (bridge) deck customary to this model. Instead, it had a mammoth motor box covering its equally mammoth Scripps motor. This was, apparently, so rescued persons could be placed on the motor box for first aid or CPR. I wish I could attach to this story / comment, the one photo Roger gave me. But I’m in Hessel w/o wi-fi. Should, by chance, any reader or anyone from the Water Safety Patrol have any other historic photos of this boat, or any lore from its heyday, I’d be extremely grateful if you could reach out to me. It would be wonderful if they could remain part of the boat’s file, as it is passed down through the future generations. I can be contacted via Matt or Texx at WoodyBoater. Thank you.

    P.S. Given the choppy waters of Lake Geneva in season, and the age of the boat, I consider it a testament to the Patrol, to Mr. O’Neill, and to any other owners in between, that this boat was well maintained and survived so many years of hard commercial, and then recreational, use on its original bottom right up to the time of its total restoration in 2010!

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